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Mobile email: Making the most of managed mobility

With some planning and research, managed mobile services can get mobile email into the hands of thousands of workers with minimal disruption and headache.

Managed services are a great way for an IT organization to get the best of both worlds: up-to-date technology at a reasonable price. Last month, we talked about some ground rules for IT evaluation of managed mobility services. We also introduced the idea of services for device provisioning, fulfillment and management. And whenever we hear mention of worker mobility, mobile email is soon to follow.

The good news about managed mobile email services is that there are many to choose from, and a properly implemented mobile email service can provide predictable costs for years to come. In the discussion that follows, we'll address some of the different aspects of mobile email services.

On the path to hosted Exchange

One of the main arguments either for or against a managed mobile email service is the availability of mobile email services in corporate platforms like Microsoft Exchange. When Microsoft announced that it was giving away mobile email as part of Microsoft Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2, the industry gasped that it might mean the end of BlackBerry; but the devil was in the upgrade path.

As we already know, giving away mobile email hasn't accelerated many organizations' upgrade schedules, so few companies have been able to take advantage of those "free" mobile email features. Companies considering a Microsoft solution for mobile email might want to look at a hosted exchange service – of which there are several – as a viable alternative.

Dedicated mobile platforms

Research In Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry service has long been a hosted, managed service, but this is something of a misnomer. RIM hosts critical components of BlackBerry mobile email from the company's network, and this is part of the carrier BlackBerry service. Deploying companies must host BlackBerry Enterprise Server software in their own data centers, and this software is in addition to corporate email servers for Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes.

Many of the companies that offer hosted Microsoft Exchange services also provide hosting for BlackBerry Enterprise Server and Motorola's GoodLink (a must for Palm OS devices) mobile email platform. Other hosting providers and carriers support hosted solutions for mobile email services from SEVEN, Visto and other platforms.

What to look for in a managed mobile email service

Of course, not all managed services are the same. Some companies also offer device management, while others stick exclusively to email, or just the mobile email component for that matter. We recommend that IT managers take the time to learn exactly what they're getting with each service. Factors to consider include:

  • Provisioning: User provisioning can take many forms, and if you have hundreds (or thousands) of users, it's easiest to make use of directories and databases for mass provisioning of users. Web portals can also make a difference for users who must self-provision, so think long and hard about how the corporate policy and the provisioning are going to work.
  • Operating system and device support: Just because a platform or service supports a specific device brand, you don't necessarily have a solution. Some Symbian devices support Microsoft; others support BlackBerry Connect. The same goes for the ever-popular Treo. Make certain you know which one you're getting.
  • Carrier interoperability: Make certain that whatever service you use is going to work with your preferred carriers. Even today, we see vendors claiming interoperability with a specific carrier even though they have no customers deployed on that carrier's network. If you have doubts, make certain to put testing and performance into the contract.
  • Hidden costs: Read the fine print in every contract and look for the exceptions. Like the recent "device tethering" debacle, hidden costs have a way of making themselves known at the wrong times, so keep looking for them.

Managed services are an excellent choice for mobile email because they deliver a key mobile application with predictability and scalability. With some planning and research, IT organizations can get mobile email into the hands of thousands of workers with minimal disruption and headache. In the next two parts of this series, we will address services for cellular bill consolidation and management as well as mobile enterprise applications. In May, we will conclude with a best practices guide.

About the author:
Daniel Taylor is managing director for the Mobile Enterprise Alliance, Inc. (MEA), and he is responsible for global alliance development, programs, marketing and member relations. He brings over fourteen years of high technology experience and is well known as a subject matter expert on many of the aspects of mobility, including wireless data networking, security, enterprise applications and communications services. Prior to the MEA, Dan held a number of product marketing and development positions in the communications industry.

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